The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Aug 11, 2012 4:12 am

Excellent post Malcolm! I think that the point of mono-history is quite an important one. Here in India one definitely sees all different types of philosophies/cultural practices existing side by side, although at times they may seem at odds with each other. So Hinduism is actually the Western umbrella term for a wide variety of practices that range from monastic-like Vaishnavism to the tantric rites seen in the Shakti sects to the ash-covered yogis meditating on Shiva by the Ganges. We have dualistic, devotion centered movements like those of Bengali bhakti saint Chaitanya, existing along with Monistic movements like Shaiva Siddhanta that is prevalent in Tamil Nadu.
The interesting thing to note is that these home-grown traditions existed by and large side by side peacefully for years on the Indian sub-continent. It was the monotheistic faiths (Christianity, Islam) coming from abroad that fed most of the more serious Indian religious conflicts.
The broadness of the Indian outlook, its emphasis on practice rather than whether an approach is "by the book" or not has led to an environment where spiritual philosophies can evolve and mature. In many places of the world religious conflicts are fought "by the sword" as it were, but historically for the most part in India they were fought "on the debate ground", with both sides often claiming victory but no blood spilt. (Unfortunately, this is changing).
Although much is made of the "Encounter of Buddhism and the West", I would argue that Western countries to not offer nearly as fertile a soil for the development and evolution of spiritual practice as India did, with perhaps an exception in terms of the dialogue between Buddhism and science.
Malhotra expressed that most of the "Interfaith Gatherings" in fact stress mere "tolerance" of others beliefs. The Abrahmic religions, who by and large share a common set of basic beliefs, cannot get along very well even among themsleves. Therefore, in terms of the Dharmic religions the most they can offer mere tolerance, but not a genuine respect.
I was not so surprised to hear that Malhotra's book was not a big seller or widely available in the West. Here in India you see it in every book shop, but I guess that is natural since it is complementary or Indian culture. It is even selling at the airport in Delhi. (I'm very sad to be leaving India in 10 days).
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Sat Aug 11, 2012 5:23 am

JKhedrup wrote:Therefore, in terms of the Dharmic religions the most they [Abrahamic] can offer mere tolerance, but not a genuine respect.


Which, according to Malhotra, is due to the Abrahamic stance of 'exclusivity'. He is not the first to discuss this, but the way he juxtaposes 'exclusivity' and 'prophetic' aspects of 'linear historicity' sheds some new light, for me. Exclusivity, it would seem, not only prevents one religion from according mutual respect others, it also makes it difficult for others to accord respect to the exclusive groups.

JKhedrup wrote:(I'm very sad to be leaving India in 10 days).
:hug:

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Osho » Sat Aug 11, 2012 8:57 am

Remember that riff in Monty Python Life of Bryan?
What have the Romans ever done for us?
Are we missing the irony of the fact that Malhotra,there being nothing that will do the trick in or of the Eastern canon; of necessity employs Western engendered philosophical approaches to make his points? Without the PoMo Malhotra has nothing beyond the India-best rather chauvinistic approach one could hear from middle class young professionals lunching in any Indian cafe.
Might there be some small element of European self loathing here colleagues?
If so that could perhaps explain the respective sales of the work in different markets with any consequent European-ethnoheritage discussion limited to fora such as this one.
Stephen Whitehead's 'Masculinities' works are far more insightful and, could one say; honest in locating groundings. The fact that Whitehead latterly became a Buddhist monk adds to rather than detracts from his entirely original academic work.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby treehuggingoctopus » Sat Aug 11, 2012 9:14 am

A mighty interesting thread, this one's become.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby tobes » Sat Aug 11, 2012 9:20 am

viniketa wrote:
JKhedrup wrote:Therefore, in terms of the Dharmic religions the most they [Abrahamic] can offer mere tolerance, but not a genuine respect.


Which, according to Malhotra, is due to the Abrahamic stance of 'exclusivity'. He is not the first to discuss this, but the way he juxtaposes 'exclusivity' and 'prophetic' aspects of 'linear historicity' sheds some new light, for me. Exclusivity, it would seem, not only prevents one religion from according mutual respect others, it also makes it difficult for others to accord respect to the exclusive groups.

JKhedrup wrote:(I'm very sad to be leaving India in 10 days).
:hug:

:namaste:


This sounds a little spurious to me. I see linear historicity as grounded far more in Enlightenment philosophies which were really running against the Abrahamic religions. i.e. Darwin, Hegel, Marx et al and conceptions of historical progress.

As Koselleck points out, the historical-temporalities associated with Christianity were for a lot of the time predicting the end of the world within a few decades - they had no stake at all in a linear historicity.

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Osho » Sat Aug 11, 2012 9:28 am

Osho wrote:Malhotra's 'argument' such as it is might be summarised as 'Derridean nostalgia'.
Raking over PoMo coals to bolster an interesting thesis detracts from both thesis and methodology. The book is an extended riff on an earlier paper.
The victors get to write the history books as Foucault said, at great length.

..........................
Malhotra's sole post grad andragogical utility in the western academy is that of reification of a subaltern genre. It's what he's known for, where he is known at all.
That's not to say he is not popular amongst Indian undergrads but those tend to be working towards unrelated first degrees largely within the vocational milleu.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Osho » Sat Aug 11, 2012 9:49 am

If one accepts 'linear historicity' as if-this-then-that causal temporality then it surely must be taken as underpinning later western empiricist philosophies,all of them including Malhotra who has both feet rooted firmly within the western methodological approach albeit the PoMo subaltern. The elightenment project did not spring fully formed from the void and the subaltern is its child not its live in domestic help.
Dawkins is,after all; an evangelist as were those of his predecessors cited above.
Malhotra is non different.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Malcolm » Sat Aug 11, 2012 1:58 pm

tobes wrote: I see linear historicity as grounded far more in Enlightenment philosophies which were really running against the Abrahamic religions. i.e. Darwin, Hegel, Marx et al and conceptions of historical progress.


'While Christianity claims a divine mandate to superimpose its own history-centrism on the entire world, thinkers of the European Enlightenment have also developed various conceptual absolutes and endowed these with 'universal' status. The profound assumption is that the shape and direction of world history are leading to a single Western goal – be it salvation or scientific secular progress.

Malhotra, Rajiv (2011-10-10). Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism (Kindle Locations 5079-5082). . Kindle Edition.

But it was Hegel, among all German thinkers, who had the deepest and most enduring impact on Western thought and identity. It is often forgotten that his work was a reaction against the Romantics' passion for India's past. He borrowed Indian ideas (such as monism) while debating Indologists to argue against the value of Indian civilization. He posited that the West, and only the West, was the agent of history and teleology. India was the 'frozen other', which he used as a foil to define the West.

Malhotra, Rajiv (2011-10-10). Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism (Kindle Locations 5174-5178). . Kindle Edition.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Malcolm » Sat Aug 11, 2012 2:06 pm

Osho wrote:If one accepts 'linear historicity' as if-this-then-that causal temporality then it surely must be taken as underpinning later western empiricist philosophies,all of them including Malhotra who has both feet rooted firmly within the western methodological approach albeit the PoMo subaltern. The elightenment project did not spring fully formed from the void and the subaltern is its child not its live in domestic help.
Dawkins is,after all; an evangelist as were those of his predecessors cited above.
Malhotra is non different.



I think you are missing a critical point: that of the purva-paksha. Malhotra is equally critical of Dharmic religions present lack of sophistication in constructing purva-pakshas i.e. "prior positions", to show that they readily understand the thought and implications of the intellectual (and in this case, cultural as well) opponent's POV. He devotes an entire chapter to purva-paksa, a discipline really unknown outside of Indian polemics. He introduces the concept in the first chapter:

The corrective to this problem in my view is the ancient and powerful Indian practice of 'purva paksha'. This is the traditional dharmic approach to rival schools. It is a dialectical approach, taking a thesis by an opponent ('purva pakshin') and then providing its rebuttal ('khandana') so as to establish the protagonist's views ('siddhanta'). The purva paksha tradition required any debater first to argue from the perspective of his opponent in order to test the validity of his understanding of the opposing position, and from there to realize his own shortcomings. Only after perfecting his understanding of opposing views would he be qualified to refute them. Such debates encourage individuals to maintain flexibility of perspective and honesty rather than seek victory egotistically. In this way, the dialectical process ensures a genuine and far-reaching shift in the individual.

Malhotra, Rajiv (2011-10-10). Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism (Kindle Locations 842-848). . Kindle Edition.

And:

Unfortunately, this tradition was not operative when Islam, Christianity and the European Enlightenment entered India. Rather than engaging in purva paksha with Islam and Christianity, or more recently with Marxism and secularism, the dharmic philosophers tended simply to ignore these foreign entries or else defer to them by adopting the attitude that 'all is one'. This stance, a misreading of the dharmic teachings, became an excuse for abandoning purva paksha, for if there are no differences, there is nothing important at which to gaze. The purva paksha method of engagement can engender sympathy as well as distance, understanding as well as critique. It must, however, retain several qualities not often found today: direct confrontation, clarification of difference, and an assumption of equality. Purva paksha should take place with transparency in as open a forum as possible and in such a way as to benefit each party. Acceptance of the need and potential for change should be a baseline from which to work.

Malhotra, Rajiv (2011-10-10). Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism (Kindle Locations 856-863). . Kindle Edition.

In other words he is equally critical of the Indian failure to engage the West with a purva-paksha, something it credits the Chinese for having done historiclly from the beginning of their engagement with the West.

M
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:08 pm

:good: ^^^^

Malcom has it covered...

Those who wish to criticize his scholarship really should read, at least, what is freely available in the book and its reviews. Malhotra is not an academic, but he does seem to be thoroughly acquainted with academic discussions of his topic, a 'scholar' in the true sense of the word. No doubt, being the founder of the Infinity Foundation and funder of its grants to both Western and Indian scholars, he has gained benefit from their writings.

Huseng wrote:In the west we tend to prefer more up-to-date works that have digested the past works and conforms to present expectations and ideas. It isn't even a preference, the system demands it.


Americans, in particular, are guilty of this about most 'cultural' items. The burning desire to have 'the latest', and to pick and choose among 'traditions' with wide latitude for keeping only what they want. Europeans, in general, are less contemptuous of the past. Asians, for the most part, still have a respect for the past. Indian culture, in particular, has its Itihāsa with a deep sense of the past.

http://www.iias.org/Understanding-Itihasa.html

:namaste:
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:10 pm

For me this is precisely what makes Malhotra interesting, his passion for and aknowledged bias towards the Dharmic traditions. I could continue the impossible task of trying to find an unbiased, analytical narrative of Indian spiritual philosophy, or, I could read someone like Malhotra, whose view is an impassioned counter-perspective to what I learned in most of my history classes at Uoft, with the exception of that of Ritu Birla. (Admittedly, this was as a mere undergrad and I never went further than my BA in Western academia.)

As a Buddhist, Malhotra's view is one that I seldom get to hear in Western scholarship, and therefore one that I appreciate. He openly declares his biases in the first part of the book, so no one is being swindled here. But he is also a strong voice that refuses to be polite regarding the obvious Abrahamic bias that pervades much of what is labeled as "interfaith dialogue". It is good for the status quo to be challenged from time-to-time, rather than being politely ignored.

If undergraduate Indian are reading this book and holding some of these views, I actually think that is fantastic. I am glad that many Indians can accept aspects of Western capitalism and still have a strong wish to hold onto their cultural and spiritual traditions. The other option seems to be that which is popular in places like Singapore and Hong Kong, where increasingly Western values are connected to an en-masse conversion to Christianity. This, I feel, would be deeply unfortunate as the Indian traditions offer a very rich exploration of the spiritual realm.

I only wish that Buddhist countries like Singapore had a Buddhist voice similar to Malhotra's in order to challenge the shift in culture that is leading to a youth uninterested in the teachings of the Buddha.

I am about halfway through the book, more later :)
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Malcolm » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:18 pm

JKhedrup wrote:
I only wish that Buddhist countries like Singapore had a Buddhist voice similar to Malhotra's in order to challenge the shift in culture that is leading to a youth uninterested in the teachings of the Buddha.


Sooner or later those of us who are proponents of Dharma culture are going to have to put aside our western style "faith commitments" and find a common ground in the Dharma, which is a pluralistic decentralized religious culture.

If we don't, then the culture of Dharma will vanish.

M
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:23 pm

:good: Agreed, "how" is a question for another thread.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Malcolm » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:28 pm

JKhedrup wrote::good: Agreed, "how" is a question for another thread.


Well, Western "Buddhists" could start by recognizing the value of Vedic culture and its overwhelming contribution.

Western Tibetan Buddhists could start by dropping their obsession with validating their narratives in contradistinction to Bon narratives.

Theravadins could drop their obsession with finding "original Buddhism". etc.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:32 pm

My appreciation for Vedic culture arose after my arrival in India. Though I'm a Buddhist monk with firm refuge in the triple gem, I wanted to understand the broader culture from which the dharma arose.
This led me to travel to various Hindu and Jain holy sites on the subcontinent such as Vrindavan, Varanasi and several ashrams. Though the Buddhist teachings are definitely "for me", the thread that runs through these dharmic traditions is one of mutual reciprocity and development. Some developments in Buddhism closely mirror those of Hinduism during a certain time period and vice versa.

As an aside, does anyone know what philosophy of "Hinduism" was held by the family of Siddhartha Gautama, Lord Buddha? What would the practice of his family have been like?
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Malcolm » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:41 pm

JKhedrup wrote:My appreciation for Vedic culture arose after my arrival in India. Though I'm a Buddhist monk with firm refuge in the triple gem, I wanted to understand the broader culture from which the dharma arose.
This led me to travel to various Hindu and Jain holy sites on the subcontinent such as Vrindavan, Varanasi and several ashrams. Though the Buddhist teachings are definitely "for me", the thread that runs through these dharmic traditions is one of mutual reciprocity and development. Some developments in Buddhism closely mirror those of Hinduism during a certain time period and vice versa.

As an aside, does anyone know what philosophy of "Hinduism" was held by the family of Siddhartha Gautama, Lord Buddha? What would the practice of his family have been like?


Buddha was a Vedic Indian. For example, when he died to recommended to Ananda that "faithful" brahmins could handle his funeral rites. Just because rejected the mechanical efficacy of brahmanical rites, he understood their deeper import. Thus, all the parts of the Stupa are named after parts of the Vedic Agnihotra precinct,including the so called "srog shing" or yaṣṭi (central pillar of the stupa), to which the the animal was to be tied in preperation for the yajanam (mchod sbyin), the offering.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:58 pm

Malcolm wrote:Buddha was a Vedic Indian.


We often see it written that Guatama Buddha 'rejected the Vedas' or 'rejected the authority of the Vedas', while it is my understanding that he rejected the authority of certain groups of Brahmin priests. See Stephen Knapp: http://www.stephen-knapp.com/buddhism_a ... ctions.htm
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Malcolm » Sat Aug 11, 2012 5:42 pm

viniketa wrote:
Malcolm wrote:Buddha was a Vedic Indian.


We often see it written that Guatama Buddha 'rejected the Vedas' or 'rejected the authority of the Vedas', while it is my understanding that he rejected the authority of certain groups of Brahmin priests. See Stephen Knapp: http://www.stephen-knapp.com/buddhism_a ... ctions.htm



He rejected the idea that the Vedas were shruti, uncreated and eternal. Of course, such ideas are key in Dzogchen where we find the Dzogchen tantras are uncreated and eternal in the same sense the Vedas were held to be.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apaurusheyatva

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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Indrajala » Sat Aug 11, 2012 6:16 pm

JKhedrup wrote:I only wish that Buddhist countries like Singapore had a Buddhist voice similar to Malhotra's in order to challenge the shift in culture that is leading to a youth uninterested in the teachings of the Buddha.


Buddhism in Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, China and Korea is thought of as old, traditional and in some cases backwards. There are few compelling reasons why youth would take an interest in Buddhism when they have cultures that insist on career, consumer culture and digital media entertainment. If you speak about horrific suffering, a small number might realize the purport of what you are saying, but most will roll their eyes and go back to browsing Facebook on their iPhones.

On the other hand, if you repackage Buddhism as some kind of user-friendly spirituality it will likewise not prompt much interest. The traditional faith based approach to Buddhism in the Sinosphere (making offerings and praying for rebirth in the Pure Land) is meaningless to younger generations brought up with educations that are designed to produce corporate and industrial employees, and more importantly consumers. The consumer culture is far more tempting and initially delicious than temples full of older ladies reciting sutras in Classical Chinese and eating vegetarian food.

Much of the Sinosphere has effectively abandoned their indigenous cultures in favour of the globalized monoculture (it isn't even western). It is a mark of power and prestige to sit in a Starbucks and read Forbes on your iPad. Buddhism on the other hand is thought of as dusty and archaic. An anachronism even.

India for a number of reasons still maintains strong ties to its indigenous cultures. Part of this is probably for economic reasons.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Sat Aug 11, 2012 9:46 pm

Malcolm wrote:He rejected the idea that the Vedas were shruti


Thank you, Malcolm. I would like to learn more about this, if you could point to a source. It is confusing, given the nature of the śrāvaka tradition in Buddhism.

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